How fast can they write? E-books push writer productivity

A dozen books a year? Some writers are accelerating the pace in this brave new world of e-books.

James Patterson published 12 books last year (some with the help of co-writers) and plans on bringing out 13 new ones next year.

If you think e-books have changed readers’ lives, consider how they’ve changed the lives of some of your favorite authors – if they haven’t already consumed them entirely.

According to a front-page article in the Sunday New York Times, the advent of e-books, instant downloads, and readers’ increasingly insatiable appetite for content translates into unprecedented productivity for novelists specializing in mysteries, thrillers, and romance, with some authors writing as many as 13 books per year to meet demand. It’s an e-revolution of sorts in which lightning-fast speed has taken over the traditionally snail-paced world of book publishing.

“[T]he e-book age has accelerated the metabolism of book publishing,” Julie Bosman writes for the Times. “Authors are now pulling the literary equivalent of a double shift, churning out short stories, novellas or even an extra full-length book each year.”

“They are trying to satisfy impatient readers who have become used to downloading any e-book they want at the touch of a button, and the publishers who are nudging them toward greater productivity in the belief that the more their authors’ names are out in public, the bigger stars they will become.”

“It used to be that once a year was a big deal,” Lisa Scottoline, a best-selling author of thrillers, told the Times. “You could saturate the market. But today the culture is a great hungry maw, and you have to feed it.”

According the Times, Ms. Scottoline increased her own output from one book a year to two, “which she accomplishes with a brutal writing schedule: 2,000 words a day, seven days a week, usually ‘starting at 9 a.m. and going until Colbert,’ she said.”

And then there’s James Patterson, a thriller novelist who wrote 12 books last year (aided in some cases by co-writers). This year his publisher expects to publish 13 Patterson thrillers.

Readers, it seems, are happy to consume the titles as fast as the novelists can write them.

But as we read the NYT piece, we couldn’t help but wonder, isn’t this trend concerning to anyone? Should books be produced a dime a dozen, with authors churning them out like widgets from a factory? And should we, as readers, encourage these insta-books?

It took Leo Tolstoy seven years to write "War and Peace" and it shows. There may be room for both Tolstoys and Pattersons on your shelf, but we’d like to encourage more of the former. After all, with an output of 12 or 13 books per year, who’s got space for all those Pattersons?

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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